Anti-apartheid, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism : liberation in South Africa?

Higginbottom, Andy (2016) Anti-apartheid, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism : liberation in South Africa? In: Ness, Immanuel and Cope, Zac, (eds.) The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism. New York, U.S. : Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 544-569. ISBN 9780230392779


South Africa is poised at a moment of reflection and evaluation. In contrast to the conventional liberal narrative that separates and isolates apartheid as a specific aberration, this essay argues that the regime of separate development inaugurated in 1948 was a particular intensification of systemic racism whose main contours were established by British imperialism fifty years earlier. The bedrock of what became apartheid is the highly exploitative mining industry that pre-dates and post-dates it. The essay examines the relation between movement strategy and theory over the long durée of modern imperialism and racial capitalism in South Africa. The interaction has been in both directions, how South Africa figured in the classical theories of imperialism, and how theories of imperialism affected (or not) particular theories of how to end apartheid. Was the movement to be just anti-apartheid, or anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist as well? There were major but inconclusive debates between the ANC/South African Communist Party and more radical anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist currents, with the ANC nonetheless repeatedly emerging as the best organised, most recognised anti-apartheid protagonist. Yet this narrow political focus conditioned the transition that took place in the 1990s In the contemporary context, liberalism focuses on political corruption and the failings of Mbeki and Zuma, but these are outcomes of the deal, servicing the capitalist economic model that Mandela’s ANC accepted in 1994. There is a deeper anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist social critique of the continuing exploitation of African working class which is finding new modes of grass roots resistance. Theory needs to catch up with these developments, specifically we need an integrated analysis of capitalist imperialism in which the concept of super-exploitation is fundamental.

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